Posts tagged ‘responsibility’

Look before you leap

The desire to avoid unpleasant things is incredibly strong. Nobody likes being dirty, diseased, distressed or disappointed. We dislike these sensations so much that we’ll go to great lengths to avoid them.

While avoiding unpleasant things is adaptive in a lot of situations (that’s obviously why we evolved to seek the release of it), there are times and places where is does more harm good.

The thing is, avoidance often only offers a temporary solution. No matter how terrified you are of the dentist’s chair, you can only put sitting in one off for so long. Sooner or later (barring an early death) a problem will arise that is so painful and/or debilitating that the discomfort it causes will over-ride your fear. And instead of a simple check up and cleaning you’ll end up having your fear reinforced.

Avoidance doesn’t just feed our anxiety and drive us to procrastination, there is also a large body of data demonstrating that the things we learn through escape and avoidance are extremely resistant to extinction. Because escape and avoidance evolved to help us survive in situations like those shown in the video below, lessons acquired through these drives can be extremely difficult to unlearn.

To avoid falling into the trap of maladaptive avoidance behavior you need to realize that unless you are in a near miss situation where immediate action is required to escape disaster, you should use your higher mental processes to assess a situation before chasing after the immediate gratification offered by simple avoidance.

The trap of avoidance is easy to all into and, unfortunately, avoidance reactions can inadvertently set off complex chain reactions that lead to unexpected problems. This happens in a broad range of situations as illustrated in a couple of recent news items.

First, in Scientific American blogs, Rob Dunn writes about how our desire to avoid sickness though widespread use of antibacterial soaps, wipes and surface treatments appears to be making us sicker instead of healthier. Dunn writes:

…Allison Aiello, a professor at the University of Michigan, recently surveyed all of the experimental or quasi-experimental studies published in English between 1980 and 2006 on the effectiveness of different hand washing strategies [2]. Aiello focused on studies that compared different strategies, for example the use of normal soap versus the use of antibiotic soap, in terms of their effect on the probability of developing gastrointestinal or respiratory illness. Our intuition is that antibiotic soaps and wipes should make everyone healthier. Aiello’s results were something else entirely.

Aiello’s first result was fine enough, but it set the stage for the trouble to come. She found “the use of nonantibacterial soap with hand hygiene education interventions is efficacious for preventing both gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses.” In other words, if you wash your hands with soap (and are educated about washing your hands with soap) you are less likely to get sick. Score one for intuition and grandma’s admonitions. But then things went terribly wrong.

Aiello next considered the antibiotic soaps and wipes now used, in one form or another, by 75% of American households. Odds are that you use them. Go check your labels. Sadly, Aiello and colleagues found that antibiotic soaps and wipes with triclosan were no more likely than good old-fashioned soap to prevent gastrointestinal or respiratory illness. In Aiello’s words, “There was little evidence for an additional impact of new products, such as alcohol-based hand sanitizers or antibacterial soaps compared with nonantibacterial soaps, for reducing either gastrointestinal or respiratory infectious illness symptoms.”

Dunn cites studies that indicate that chronically ill people who used antibiotic soaps actually suffered from an increased susceptibility to coughs, colds and infections when compared to those who used regular soaps. He also discusses how, triclosan, the active ingredient in most of these products, is spreading it through the environment where it appears to be creating an ugly chain of unintended consequences.

In an interesting parallel, Lori Gottlieb’s How to Land Your Kid in Therapy, published in the July/August edition of The Atlantic illustrates how our desire to help those we care about avoid unpleasant feelings can actually turn them into chronically unhappy and unfulfilled people (bold emphasis is mine).

Paul Bohn, a psychiatrist at UCLA … believes many parents will do anything to avoid having their kids experience even mild discomfort, anxiety, or disappointment—“anything less than pleasant,” as he puts it—with the result that when, as adults, they experience the normal frustrations of life, they think something must be terribly wrong.

Consider a toddler who’s running in the park and trips on a rock, Bohn says. Some parents swoop in immediately, pick up the toddler, and comfort her in that moment of shock, before she even starts crying. But, Bohn explains, this actually prevents her from feeling secure—not just on the playground, but in life. If you don’t let her experience that momentary confusion, give her the space to figure out what just happened (Oh, I tripped), and then briefly let her grapple with the frustration of having fallen and perhaps even try to pick herself up, she has no idea what discomfort feels like, and will have no framework for how to recover when she feels discomfort later in life. These toddlers become the college kids who text their parents with an SOS if the slightest thing goes wrong, instead of attempting to figure out how to deal with it themselves. If, on the other hand, the child trips on the rock, and the parents let her try to reorient for a second before going over to comfort her, the child learns: That was scary for a second, but I’m okay now. If something unpleasant happens, I can get through it. In many cases, Bohn says, the child recovers fine on her own—but parents never learn this, because they’re too busy protecting their kid when she doesn’t need protection.

[...]

Dan Kindlon, a child psychologist and lecturer at Harvard, warns against what he calls our “discomfort with discomfort” in his book Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age. If kids can’t experience painful feelings, Kindlon told me when I called him not long ago, they won’t develop “psychological immunity.”

“It’s like the way our body’s immune system develops,” he explained. “You have to be exposed to pathogens, or your body won’t know how to respond to an attack. Kids also need exposure to discomfort, failure, and struggle. I know parents who call up the school to complain if their kid doesn’t get to be in the school play or make the cut for the baseball team. I know of one kid who said that he didn’t like another kid in the carpool, so instead of having their child learn to tolerate the other kid, they offered to drive him to school themselves. By the time they’re teenagers, they have no experience with hardship. Civilization is about adapting to less-than-perfect situations, yet parents often have this instantaneous reaction to unpleasantness, which is ‘I can fix this.’”

The mental systems you rely on to cope with stress, like those that make up your immune system, need regular challenges to stay fit and healthy. If a child is taught that every effort he makes will be treated as a success and that child never gets any kind of negative feedback on his performance, he’ll never learn to cope with adversity or limits. (And the same applies to your dog.)

But — putting efforts into helping your child or your dog avoid discomfort in the short term is a lot easier than making and implementing a plan to teach them how to avoid and cope with it on their own in the long term.

While avoidance motivation can help us figure out that a problem needs to be solved, outside of near miss situations, avoidance-based decision making is only adaptive when we use it to choose a specific goal and a course of action to achieve it. And that’s not easy to do.

Our avoidance drives aren’t specific. When you’re in avoidance mode you’re only focused on feeling good (or at least less bad) in the moment and all other goals are pushed aside.

If you’re a gazelle living living on the African savanna, avoidance reactions keep you alive. A gazelle’s only long term goals are to survive and reproduce, and avoidance reactions suit this kind of life well. A human with a job and a mortgage lives in a far more complex world and has a very different set of goals. We need to be able to select and maintain our focus on goals that can require years or even decades of effort to achieve. And that’s hard to do, because every day avoidance sets enticing little traps to divert us.

July 12, 2011 at 1:12 pm 5 comments

I want a dog license

Dog licenses have been required in the United States since settlements were large enough to breed conflicts between neighbors. 

In his book “Pre-1900 Dog License Tags,” William J. Bone, D.V.M. wrote that dog licensing was first addressed in the U.S. during the 1700’s when several states passed laws desinged to control dogs and collect taxes to reimburse livestock owners for dog depredation. Dog licensing was first instituted in England at about the same time.

Of course dog catchers and dog pounds followed right on the heels of dog licenses, (though the first animal protection societies weren’t created until about a century later) and licensing provided revenue that helped support dog catching.

Back in the day, dog licenses cost money but they also sometimes offered certain priveleges and protections. According to Diane Bandy in Indiana Dog License History:

A dog who was licensed in Indiana, had certain privileges of running at large and escaping a death sentence imposed by officials. A dog who ran at large, licensed and not bothering livestock was also protected legally. If someone shot a licensed, non provoking dog, they could be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined anywhere from $5-$50 along with liabilities to the owner for injury or death.

Sadly, the idea of combining certain priveleges (running politely at large) with specified responsibilities  (staying out of trouble and wearing a tag that identifies you) did not gain much popularity. Over time, dog licenses became little more than a way to collect revenue and keep track of canine populations. And because license laws are notoriously difficult to enforce, scofflaws became the norm rather than the exception.

So much so that the national dog licensing system in Great Britain was abolished in 1987. According to a House of Commons Research Paper published in January of 1998:

The national dog licensing system, which was abolished in 1987, did nothing to contain the problems caused by irresponsible dog ownership since it had long ceased to command any public respect. Less than 50% of owners bothered to register. As a result, there is no evidence that the number of strays is higher since the abolition of dog licensing.

According to this article in today’s Star Tribune, thirteen years later some cities in Minnesota are following suit:

Are city dog licenses going the way of VCRs and film cameras? In an age when dogs sport name tags and personalized collars and have microchips injected between their shoulder blades, Golden Valley Police Chief Stacy Altonen thinks the answer is “yes.”

Next month the Golden Valley City Council is expected to drop a requirement that residents license their dogs, joining Plymouth, Minnetonka, Brooklyn Center, New Brighton, Falcon Heights and Northfield in the no-license category.

Altonen said the city is simply dropping an ordinance that wasn’t effective and that cost the city in staff time. Only about 600 dogs — a fraction of the canines residing in Golden Valley — were licensed each year.

A significant lack of compliance combined with the difficulty of enforcing license laws mean that dog licenses are becoming a net drain on finances in many areas. Advocates of licensing point out that license tags can provide a way to return lost pets to their owners but Altonen is quoted as saying that:

“In 17 years here, I can count on one hand the dogs we returned because of city tags. We return more dogs with microchips … or because people call right away when they lose their dogs so when we find them we know who lost them.”

Dog owners have historically been required to do little more than pay a fee and show proof of vaccination to license their pets. In exchange they’re received a shiny tag and a spot in the city database. Given the pathetic number of people who comply with license laws, most of us obviously see little value in that.

Why don’t dog licenses allow dog owners to do anything with their dogs?

A driver’s license gives you access to public roads. A concealed carry permit gives you the right to carry a handgun. But — someone who wants to drive a car or carry a concealed weapon has to pass a test to demonstrate at least a basic level of competence to earn that license.

Before you get your hackles up, I’ll say that I think that dropping the generic dog license requirement is a good thing. I don’t need a license to own a car, just to drive one on public roads. And I think that if municipalities want to institute revenue-generating programs that truly serve dog owners they need to reconsider what a dog license represents.

According to Merriam-Webster a license is:

1. the approval by someone in authority for the doing of something
2. the granting of power to perform various acts or duties
3. the right to act or move freely

Note that in all three cases a license is defined as granting the holder permission to do something. The problem with dog licenses is that they don’t function as “licenses” at all, they’re just an annual tax on dog ownership.

Dog licensing has become a way to collect revenue; a convenient tool to track data on pet ownership; and in some areas, a hammer to try to force compliance with vaccination, spay-neuter, breed-specific and other dog-related legislation. Since most people don’t license their dogs, I would assume that (despite what many try to tell us) these are not things most dog owers put a high value on. 

I don’t think I should need a license to own a dog. But I’d like to have the option of getting a dog license that functioned a lot like a driver’s license. To get it I’d take a written test to demonstrate basic knowledge of dog safety and dog-related laws and then my dog and I would take a skills test to demonstrate our ability to navigate the community in a safe and sane manner. If I demonstrated my ability and willingness to accept specific responsibilities and passed the test, I’d get a license that gave my dog and I certain privileges (such as on and off leash access to specified areas) that unlicensed dog owners do not have.

I want a dog license – but I want it to be license that says my dog and I have demonstrated that we’ve earned the right to hold it.

October 19, 2010 at 2:38 pm 21 comments

Two Wrongs Lead to Confusion on Rights

RDOFAIL1

This week the LaCrosse Tribune reported a story of dog ownership – and respect for life – that went terribly wrong.  Unfortunately the guilty parties will likely come out of it with everything but their dignity intact while the victim – an innocent dog – paid the ultimate price.

The attorney who is representing the La Crescent, Minnesota couple who admit they poisoned a neighbor’s dog is arguing that their right to do so is protected under the 14th Amendment.

If the law allows farmers to kill dogs that threaten their livestock, does that right apply to city dwellers when a dog poops on their lawn and barks at their kids?

That’s the argument posed by the attorney for a La Crescent couple charged with poisoning their next-door neighbors’ pet.

Tim Guth has asked a judge to dismiss animal cruelty charges against Scott and Tammy Bailey on the grounds their prosecution violates the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. Because Minnesota law allows people to kill dogs to protect livestock, Guth contends the Baileys should not be held liable for killing a dog that defecated in their yard, growled at them and ate their food.

I can, to some degree, understand the Bailey’s frustration.  When we lived in rural Wisconsin my neighbors’  free range dogs peed in my garage, crapped in my garden, attacked my puppy, whined incessantly at my door when my girl was in heat and snapped and lunged at me – all while I was in the “safety” of my own yard.  Calling and showing up on at my neighbors’ (as in more than one neighbor) doorsteps to complain got me little more than confused blank looks and sincere assurances that “He’s never been a problem before.”

Speaking of blank looks:

The Blanks and a police officer answered questions from attorneys Wednesday at a hearing in Houston County District Court.

Both Blanks denied hearing complaints about Sadie.

Emma Blank, who works with special needs children at La Crescent Elementary, told of how Sadie was gentle with children and would come across the alley to play with students at recess.

Judge James Fabian asked how the dog was able to come when called.

Blank replied Sadie was free to roam but was trained to stay on the family’s deck. (bold mine)

Right, and I’m Queen of freakin’ England.

Newsflash – the only dog that is going to stay on a deck, by itself, all day long, when the only people around are the really interesting distractions that exist only in the world off the deck – is either a very ill dog or – maybe – one that is contained by an invisible fence.  A healthy, happy, normal dog has far better things to do than lounge around by himself on a deck all day.  Especially when the neighbors are serving steak.

As maddeningly annoying as it may be, the Blank’s brazenly irresponsible  management of their dog in no way excuses  the Bailey’s conduct.  Shooting a dog in the act of worrying livestock or attacking a pet or person is an act committed in the immediate defense of person or living property.  And – it’s a duty that no good farmer looks forward to.  Poisoning a dog because his owners let him run loose to steal your steaks and crap all over your yard is not an act of self defense – it’s just cold, pointless, premeditated cowardice.

Last time I checked acts of cowardice were not among those protected by our Constitution.

When I was faced with a deluge of obnoxious canine invaders owned by irresponsible dolts I didn’t load my gun or serve  antifreeze appetizers.  I’m not capable of shooting or poisoning innocent dogs and I wasn’t prepared for the kind of range war that would break out if I persisted in complaining or, worse yet, started calling the sheriff (we had no animal control) every time an infraction occurred. After considering our options husband and I elected to suck it up and build a fence – ’cause you see – two wrongs really don’t make a right.

July 12, 2009 at 1:57 am 4 comments

DO-TAG

Comments on this post on Tamara Follett’s program of blatant self-promotion Canine-Threat Assessment Guide over at YesBiscuit  annoyed me enough that I felt I had to write this post.  Dangerous dogs aren’t born – they’re created by ignorant and / or inattentive owners.  We don’t need a system to assess the potential danger a dog poses to society- we need one that puts responsibility squarely where it’s needed – on the shoulders of dog owners.

Dog Owner Threat Assessment Guide (DO-TAG)
Categorization of Dog Owners by Risk Factors

The goal of this draft guide is to provide a free, easy-to-use tool for authorities to employ in assessing a given dog owner’s risk  to his dog and the public.  The guide could allow local authorities to identify potentially problematic dog owners with regard to their real or potential threat so that limited resources can be focused on those dog owners most likely to have unplanned litters, encourage aggressive behavior in their dogs, let them run at large or otherwise engage in potentially dangerous and/or antisocial behaviors.

As one small step toward this goal I have created this draft assessment guide that lets you determine the level of threat you pose to society as a dog owner.  The test not only places risk where it belongs, but it also allows your score to change over time.  Answer each question honestly, sum up the points and see what kind of risk you present to society.

1. When you call your dog does he:
  I would never let my dog off leash!  7
  Only come if you have cheese or other treats in your hand? 5
  Come unless he’s distracted? 3
  Come as long as there are no large distractions like animals or people present? 2
  Turn and come even if he’s at a full run after a critter. -5
 
2. When you are gone your dog is:
  Running loose – he needs his freedom1!* 10
  Chained up out front to scare off intruders. 12
  Chained or on a tie-out in an area where people pass by. 8
  Loose in an area contained by an invisible fence. 8
  Loose in a fenced yard with people and dogs in adjacent areas. 6
  In a secure kennel in a quiet area. 1
  Loose in my house where he doesn’t get in trouble. 0
  Crated in my house because he needs more training. 0
  Crated in my house because he’s destructive and can’t be trained. 6
 
3. When you walk your dog on leash:
  I don’t have time to walk my dog, he gets plenty of exercise playing in the yard. 10
  I have to do it at a time when no one is around because of his aggression. 10
  He constantly drags me down the street no matter what I do. 8
  I let him run loose to check out the neighborhood. 9
  He’s good except when other people and dogs walk past. 3
  He walks politely by my side even around distractions. 0
  I don’t need the leash, he’ll heel around distractions without it. -2
 
4. When you groom your dog:
  I have to muzzle him to touch parts of his body. 8
  My dog doesn’t need any grooming. 10
  I have to take him to a vet or groomer, I’m afraid to groom him. 9
  He doesn’t like it but he puts up with it. 2
  He enjoys grooming! 0
 
5. When your dog misbehaves:
  I lose my temper.  The little b*$+d does it just to annoy me. 10
  I get frustrated because it happens so often. 6
  I sometimes ignore him because I’m busy. 8
  I usually discover what he’s done after the fact. 8
  I ignore it and hope the behavior will self-extinguish. 8
  I scold or correct him then move on. 5
  I correct the behavior then praise him for stopping or changing the behavior 1
  I look forward to it as a training opportunity. 0
  My darling little snookums never misbehaves! 15
 
6. Your dog is:
  The victim of terrible abuse and will to be treated with kid gloves forever. 10
  My perfect baby. 10
  Just a dog. 5
  A dog with a dog’s needs and desires. 0
 
7. When children are around:
  I leave my dog alone with them. He’s perfectly safe. 10
  I lock my dog up. He hates kids. 7
  I watch the dog. 4
  I always keep an eye on the dog and the kids. 0
  My dog has never been around children. 8
 
8. I have two or more dogs because:
  I don’t have time to entertain one. This way they entertain each other when I’m busy. 10
  I only have one dog because I don’t have time, space or money for more. 0
  I only have one dog because my dog hates other dogs. 8
  I have the time, energy, space, money and other resources I need to enjoy them all. 0
  I know I can take better care of them than anyone else.** 20
 
9. Your dog was:
  Spayed or neutered at your request at less than six months of age. 2
  Spayed or neutered at your request at more than six months of age. 0
  Spayed or neutered before you got it. 0
  Intact because he / she has papers. 8
  Intact because he / she would feel bad without all his / her parts. 7
  Intact because health and temperament tests show he / she is an excellent example of the breed. 0
  Intact because the breeder wants a puppy back from him / her. 8
  Intact because you’re too busy, broke or disorganized to deal with it. 10
  Spayed or neutered for health reasons (this includes not being a great representative of his/her breed). 0
 
10. Your dog obeys commands like sit, down and stay:
  My dog doesn’t need training. 10
  Only if I have treats in my hand. 8
  Only if there are no distractions around. 8
  When there are few distractions. 5
  As long as there aren’t big distractions around. 3
  Even around large distractions like other animals and people. 0
 
MY SCORE:  

*     If you live in a rural area and the dog is a livestock guard dog give yourself one point, not ten.
**  If this is really how you feel, get help. You may be a hoarder.

If your scored:

75 or more points – You are a Potentially Lethal Dog Owner.  Unless you change your ways there is a significant probability that your dog will injure someone seriously or meet an untimely death himself because of your misbehavior. You have no business owning a dog of any kind.

50 to 75 points –  You are a Dangerous Dog Owner.  Your neighbors probably hate you – and your dog.  People walk on the other side of the street to avoid you. There is a significant possibility that your dog will injure a person or another dog.  Please get help!

40 to 50 points –  You are a Problem Dog Owner.  Everyone knows your dog – for all the wrong reasons.  The police know where you live because of neighborhood complaints.  The vet only pretends he’s happy when you come in.  Some people avoid visiting you because they don’t want to deal with your dog.  While he may never bite anyone, your dog runs a significant risk of being euthanized or rehomed for ‘his’ misbehavior.

30 to 40 points –  You are an Annoying Dog Owner.  Your neighbor likes you but sometimes secretly wishes you’d move away. Your kid’s friends don’t want to play with the dog.  And the dog probably spends a lot of its time either being ignored or coddled (or – worse yet, dealing with the confusion of alternating bouts of each).  Your vet likes you, but would give you a much less than glowing referral as a foster home.

20 to 30 points – You are a Reasonable Dog Owner.  Your dog is rarely annoying and his behavior is getting better instead of worse.  People are nearly always glad to see your dog and if they aren’t, he doesn’t bother them.  Your vet would give you a good referral if a breeder or rescue group called.

Less than 20 points – You are an Excellent Dog Owner.  Even if he started out with issues, you have a great dog. Friends and neighbors ask you for dog training advice. 

This guide is a draft.  You are free to copy, use, abuse, insult, change, throw out or otherwise adapt it any way you want.  If you’ve got suggestions, post them as comments here.  I’ll take the ones I think are best (hey – this is my blog) and post an update.

July 9, 2009 at 7:10 pm 22 comments

Newsflash – Your Dog Doesn’t Need to Live on a Farm

This just in, ironically right on the heels of our post on Biscuit

A recent news item featured the story of a young dog who is going to be euthanized because the family that owns him can’t afford to post the bond required to keep him under a local “dangerous dog” law. The article painted a sad picture of the distraught mother and her grief-stricken children. They are, it seems, much to be pitied.

Or are they?

They admit that they purchased the dog “on a whim” knowing nothing about beagles and doing absolutely no research on the breed.

They say that they gave the young dog everything he needed — well, except for training. And, um… maybe enough attention and supervision.  Oh – and they did admit (albeit somewhat begrudgingly) that the dog could be “a bit aggressive” at times.

bewareofthedog

And those turned out to be fatal mistakes (at least for the dog). Being a typical beagle their pet would catch a scent and promptly run off. His owners admit they got tired of chasing him and that he escaped from them more times than they could count… including the day this fall when he ran off and bit a 7-year old child several times in the face.

The owners were repentant, apologies were made, the bite was reported and the pup was quarantined at home… where he was allowed to escape once again. Authorities were less forgiving this time and the family was told to meet the bonding and other requirements of the local dangerous dog law. They say that they can’t afford to do this — so the dog will have to be euthanized.

The dog’s owners say that they considered giving him up to someone who has lots of room for the dog to roam, but are concerned about the potential liability. After all, if the dog bit someone else they might be sued. So the death order stands.

I’m sitting here trying to figure out what part of this story any sense. Family gets active, high-maintenance dog on a whim. Family doesn’t give the dog proper training or supervision. Family admits dog is aggressive – yet continues to leave him in a situation where he gets loose to run the neighborhood so often they can’t even keep track of the incidents. Dog – as one would expect – eventually bites someone and then is allowed, while in quarantine to escape once again. The family, apparently still in denial, continues to hold on to a false idea that it isn’t their fault that a child has been bitten and an innocent young dog has to die. After all, if he just had enough room to roam, it wouldn’t be a problem — would it?

As we’ve posted here before; there are far more high-energy dogs than farms for them to live on.  It’s rare to find a farmer who doesn’t have all the dogs he wants or needs. Still – the myth that there’s a farm waiting to take in every wild, untrained, out-of-control dog whose owner is tired of it survives.

Do irresponsible people really believe that their dog’s wild misbehavior won’t be a problem around children and free range chickens? That an underpaid, overworked farm family has nothing better to do than feed, train and put up with an aggressive, untrained cast-off suburban pet?

When I was young, parents often told children that a dog had been “sent off to live on a farm” after it was killed.  This story was used whether the dog was accidentally killed, sent to the shelter or euthanized.

We didn’t believe the story. And something tells me that even when irresponsible pet owners indulge in fits of self-absorbed denial try to console themselves with the idea that their dog’s behavior problems arise from living in an “unnatural” urban environment there is a place deep inside them where they realize that they  were the environmental factor that led to the dog’s problem behavior. That it’s their fault. That they failed to give an innocent creature the supervision and guidance it needed to survive in the world. And I hope that maybe, even if they can’t admit it to themselves, they learn enough from their failures to have more respect for the next life that’s put into their keeping.

December 1, 2008 at 3:11 am 9 comments

Remembering Prunella

Prunella was a goat.  I don’t know how old she was or where she was born.  I only met her once and know of her mostly through the stories my friend Audrey told me about her.

Prunella spent the first two years of her life living and working in a research laboratory at the University of Minnesota.  We don’t know what kind of research she participated in.  We just know that after the study was over, Pru was scheduled for euthanasia.

One of the students who worked on the study – and knew Prunella – was a friend of Audrey’s.  When Pru was scheduled to be ‘released’ from the program she contacted Audrey, who she knew had a farm with pastures and a barn, and begged her to take the goat in.  Audrey’s not a goat person, but she can be a sucker for a sad story – especially when it involves an innocent furry creature, so she agreed to take Prunella.

That was almost ten years ago.  Audrey and I joked about Prunella a lot – we agreed that we wanted to volunteer for whatever study it was that she had participated in…  You see, that darned goat was the absolute picture of health.  She never got sick.  She never had problems with infections or parasite infestations.  She was a super goat.

Mostly, Prunella was a pet.  She was an Alpine doe and I suppose Audrey could have bred her and used her as a milk goat, but she didn’t.  She just tamed her and fed her and cared for her.  They were friends.

An Alpine goat.  Not Prunella.

An Alpine goat. Not Prunella.

Until Sunday.

Sunday afternoon Audrey was doing chores around her place when she heard the hens in her barn raise up a great and terrified ruckus.  They were obviously panicked.  Really panicked.  So she sped out to the barn to see what the problem was. 

Clustered in a tight flock in the corner of their coop, the hens appeared to be terrified, but unhurt.  As she checked on them she heard odd, raspy sounds coming from Prunella’s stall.  She assumed that what she heard was the sound of a terrified goat, and went into the stall to visit Pru and calm her down.

As she entered the stall, she was horrified to see that two dogs were in the stall and Prunella was lying on her side in a corner, obvoiusly in distress.  The dogs, a border collie and a rottweiler mix, were snarling and their faces were bloodied.  Audrey – who can be incredibly intimidating when she wants to be – chased them out of the stall – with nothing more than her voice and presence.

Once they were gone, she went to check Prunella – and found that her trachea had been badly torn.  It was a wound she could not survive.

Filled with righteous indignation, she leaped into her van and drove up the road to the house where she knew the dogs lived.  Their owners were just piling into a car, dressed up for some outing, when she arrived.  Smart woman, she parked her van diagonally across the drive to block them in, then told them that their dogs had fatally injured her goat. 

The female owner leaped right into denial.  She whined that it couldn’t have been their dogs – they’re always chained up in the yard.  A pointed look toward two trees surrounded by hard-packed earth and empty chains said all that needed to be said about that.  So Audrey told the male owner that he needed to take ownership of the problem and come to put her goat out of its misery – NOW.

Quietly, he got his gun and did as he was told.

Then they all piled into the car and went off to their party.  Leaving their dogs to roam free through a neighborhood filled with poultry, sheep, calves, pets — and children.  No tears. No apology. No offer to bury or replace the goat.

No responsibility.

Sadly, it will be dogs who pay the price for this bit of ignorance and stupidity. Their owner will likely let them run at large until a neighborhood vigilante shoots them or the county sheriff picks them up and gets rid of them for him.  Then he’ll find a couple more dogs who are ‘free to a good home’ and chain them up outside his house until they die or go mad.  Or kill something.

A dog doesn’t need a home in the country.  It needs a home that cares. 

   The Goat And I

-Robert W. Service

Each sunny day upon my way
         A goat I pass;
He has a beard of silver grey,
         A bell of brass.
And all the while I am in sight
         He seems to muse,
And stares at me with all his might
         And chews and chews.

Upon the hill so thymy sweet
         With joy of Spring,
He hails me with a tiny bleat
         Of welcoming.
Though half the globe is drenched with blood
         And cities flare,
Contentedly he chews the cud
         And does not care.

Oh gentle friend, I know not what
         Your age may be,
But of my years I’d give the lot
         Yet left to me,
To chew a thistle and not choke,
         But bright of eye
Gaze at the old world-weary bloke
         Who hobbles by.

Alas! though bards make verse sublime,
         And lines to quote,
It takes a fool like me to rhyme
         About a goat.

September 16, 2008 at 3:08 am 2 comments


Because A Dog’s Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

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